Part 2 of Scott Townsend’s interview about Field Trial Dog Training
This is the second part of a two-part series talking with Scott Townsend of Crosswind Kennels in Michigan.
Scott has been training and competing pointing dogs for over 20 years, andduring that time he has produced and/or trained six different national Shoot to Retrieve Association National Champions. He owned, trained and competed the winning-est German Short Hair in the history of NSTRA. He has won a total of eight National Championships and five other national championship runner-ups. He has placed in the final four in a national trial 20 times.
Dr. Tim: How do you start off with the noise of the gun when they are a pup - how do you expose them to the sounds of shooting?
ST: These pointing dogs are all about chasing birds. I don’t like to mess with them around gun fire until they are about nine to ten months old. It’s not that some can’t handle it earlier, but they all can by that age (9-10 months old).
The method I use is simple. When I’m teaching the pups to hold point I have the training birds in a remote control launcher. When the pups start to hold point for a few seconds, I launch the bird and when the pup breaks to chase I let them run out about 50 to 75 yards; when they reach that distance I pull the trigger. I start them out with a shotgun, but some people start with a blank pistol; the key here is that the pup is totally focused on chasing that bird that just came out of in front of him. His mind is on one thing, that bird. Then you shoot the gun.
Dr. Tim: Does it help for the dog to watch other dogs do these types of activities?
ST: I think it may help some dogs out occasionally, but I’m not really a big fan of staking the young dogs out so they can watch. While there may be some benefits to it, I think it is minimal.
the pup totally focused on chasing that bird that just came out of in front of him. His mind is on one thing, that bird. Then you shoot the gun.
Dr. Tim: How do you get them used to crowds (at competition) being around?
ST: It is really rare that I run into a dog that is not used to crowds. I think these dogs start dealing with the pressures of training for the trials and the pressures from other dogs running in on them during their work that they are never even really thinking about the crowds. Plus, these dogs live for and thrive off of the competition of another dog, they learn really fast that if they don’t get to that bird first and get it pointed their brace mate will. So they are so preoccupied with the job at hand that the crowds are totally ignored.
Dr. Tim: What is your feeding schedule as you train and prepare for an event? That is, what’s the timing in relation to the event and afterwards?
ST: During weekend trials my feeding schedule remains the same as feeding them at home. I feed once in the evening. I like that because I’m only going to run twice the next day and that is plenty of nutrition to get them through two runs in a day. As long as the food being fed is a highly digestible and high quality dog food this method is successful.
If I am running in a national event, and once the tournament starts to narrow down to the end, my dog may be required to run multiple braces a day. If they manage to make it to the finals they will have spent a total of 2.5 to 3 hours on the ground competing. Conditioning and feeding are really important on that last day. Plus, most of these national events are held in a warm to hot climate. Often in 80 and 90 degree temps.
So on my last day, I feed my normal amount in the evening as usual but I will snack them throughout the day, depending on the amount of time I may or may not have between runs. These national tournaments are run on a bracket style draw system. So if I’m last brace in one round I could be drawn out as first brace in the following round, which leads to little or no break at all. So if I get the chance as soon as I come off the field I want to get my dog cooled down ASAP. I then take him to the trailer and get him put up, snacked and then resting, in preparation for the next round.
These nationals, especially the ones held in the climates, can cause your dog to drop a few pounds throughout the week; if that is the case I will put the dog on a twice a day feeding until I get them back to their appropriate weight.
Dr. Tim: Do the dogs know they are competing? Do they know they do well?
ST: Oh, absolutely they know! Again in their minds it is what they live for and thrive off of; competition. Everything gets ramped up to the next level or two. Often times you will see the dog practically dragging his handler to the blind in anticipation of their turn to run. They love it.
As far as knowing if they did well or not that’s a great question. I swear some of those good veterans out there do. Probably a lot of that they are picking up from their handlers emotions, but it sure seems like they can tell if they performed well.
Dr. Tim: What drives you to continue competing in this endeavor?
ST: There is no doubt about it - it is the thrill of going out and running against another good dog and good handler. Also to watch your dog apply what you have spent so many hours of training with him/her on. When it all comes together it is addictive.
Dr. Tim: For the person at home with a dog - how do they start to determine if their dog might be one for field trialing?
ST: Probably the best way is to seek out others that are already involved in the sport and approach them. The dog owners competing in the field trial events are for a large part made up of individuals that really like to see others get involved and will be happy to help others get started. After you have made that contact it’s really just a matter of getting that new dog exposed to the different sights and sounds. Next is getting him on the ground with some of the dogs already trialing and a person will soon tell if their dog has the physical capabilities to play the game. Don’t be concerned about how that new dog handles the rules as those can be taught. Be concerned with things like does he have an equal amount of drive, run and stamina as his brace mate he is running with. You don’t have to have the fastest dog around but you are wanting a dog that is well rounded in many areas; run, nose, style and stamina.